Saturday, April 24, 2010

Back on Board

I love being back on the boat, even though we are still tied up at the marina dock. It's a joy to start each day when I can gaze out the pilothouse window to enjoy a sunrise like this one. Hmmm, remind me I said that after it has been gray, wet and windy for a few weeks. NW spring weather is predictably changeable, sometimes minute to minute.

The first few meals on board are always a challenge of making do with what we've got - in the cooler, in the freezer or in the pantry. The sourdough pot came along with me, so pancakes were on the menu for breakfast number one. Frozen lentil soup took care of lunch, and I defrosted a container of chicken gumbo for dinner. How nice of me to leave some frozen entrees during our February visit. 

An avocado from home teamed up with a tin of smoked kippers from the pantry to top my breakfast toast today. The Capt. just rolled his eyes at my generous offer to share and headed for a box of cereal. Boring.

Now I really need to take inventory, build a small shopping list and walk to the grocery. I'll postpone any major provisioning until after the haul out, when we are ready to refloat. Until then I get to cook lightly onboard, and then in a motel kitchenette for a couple of weeks. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Scalloped Potato Muffins

On some days self-control fails me, willpower takes a break, and I am tempted to go crazy with carbs. Wednesday was that kind of day - well, it really began Tuesday evening. Two foodblogs (especially this one) featured muffin-sized scalloped potatoes, not something that typically sends me over the edge, but the descriptions were tempting, and the photos almost drool-worthy. The combination of stacked sliced taters, diced ham, minced scallions, grated cheese, butter and a bit of cream called out to me... loudly... even insistently. So I gave in and prepared a small batch for a dinner side dish, purposely making two extra muffins. Extras, just in case RL wanted seconds, but really hoping I would have them all to myself in the morning.

My photo features the morning-after, reheated-in-the-micro, leftover serving. The taters were creamier and crispier for Tuesday’s dinner, but they still tasted heavenly for Wednesday’s breakfast. The basic technique will definitely be repeated, with a variety of ingredient swaps and flavorful herb add-ins. Garlic, rosemary, jalapenos... the possibilities are endless.

Oops! Wednesday also happened to be an impromptu pizza lunch with friends. The available salad bar provided no competition for the delicious, all-you-can-eat, try-a-variety-of-toppings pizza slices I inhaled, one after another. At least I stopped eating before it hurt.

Garlic chicken pizza plus cheesy scalloped taters with ham, sigh! Does carb loading get any better than this? (Too bad I'm not training for a marathon.) Now I’m ready for some fruit, vegies and salad to balance these choices… just not today, not yet. For now, I think I’ll let my stomach rest.

Here's the recipe (not scaled down) that I worked with. It came from The Noshery, via a post on ThePioneerWoman in Tasty Kitchen. Whatever the history, it's now a keeper in my kitchen.

Individual Scalloped Potatoes

Prep Time 20 minutes     Cook Time 25 minutes     Servings 12

8 whole medium potatoes (I used Russets)
1 stick butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cups scallions, chopped
1/2 cup cooked ham, small dice
12 teaspoons half-and-half
Salt and pepper to taste
Pierce potatoes with fork, sprinkle with salt, wrap in damp paper towel and microwave until almost done. The potatoes should still be firm. Set aside; let cool till they can be handled, then slice.

Place 1/2 Tbsp pat of butter in each mold of the muffin/cupcake pan, then a slice of potato, a pinch of salt and pepper, then ham, cheese and scallions. Repeat layers: potato, salt & pepper, ham, cheese, scallions. (I did 2 layers, but up to 3 would work) Top each mold with another pat of butter and drizzle each with 1 tsp of half-and-half.

Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 – 25 minutes, until cheese is melted and potatoes are brown.

Monday, April 5, 2010

English Muffin Toasting Bread

I just had to bake again this morning, no question about it. The KitchenAid stand mixer was still out on the counter and our lunch sandwiches could finish the last loaf of bread. Presto! there was my excuse to have fun in the kitchen. Not that I wanted to spend all day waiting for sourdough, or even wait a few hours for baguettes to rise. A fast and tasty yeast bread would be a good choice.

I first tried this bread in May 2009, on board the boat and cruising in British Columbia. For the recipe and the old post click here.

What a difference the KitchenAid makes, especially with today's “beat at high speed for one minute” direction. Have you ever tried beating a heavy, sticky dough by hand, at high speed, for one very long minute? I did last May, after a small portable hand mixer bogged down and quit. Everything is easier and faster with a stand mixer... everything like mixing, kneading and even the kitchen/galley cleanup that follows.

Here’s the loaf after a 40-minute rise, ready to bake.

After 35 minutes in the oven, it looked golden and gorgeous.

That funny hole is from my messy poking around with the quick-read thermometer. 

We enjoyed the first few slices as a snack - toasted, buttered and topped with a hit of lingonberry jam (RL) and lemon curd (me). The next three slices made toasted croutons for our dinner salad. At this rate, I'll be baking again soon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lavender Cookies

Sitting and gazing out the window at today's gray, windy weather was not a positive activity. It's April, it's Easter Sunday. I  needed... well, something to recapture the buoyant feeling of Spring in Seattle. Tossing on a sweater, I grabbed the camera and prowled the yard, searching for new signs of Spring. I dashed out the kitchen door, across the deck, and boom! stopped immediately at the sight of blooming lavender plants. When did they open up? I love the scent of lavender, fresh or dried. Can anyone resist running a leafy sprig through their fingers to capture that intriguing aroma? 

Lavender, a member of the mint family, is reported to have medicinal as well as culinary uses. For cooking it is a necessary component of the spice mixture Herbes de Provence. I harvest my Spanish lavender for bouquets and sachets, but prefer to buy culinary Lavandula officinalis online from Penzeys Spices. Forget the savory Mediterranean recipes, today it's all about Lavender Cookies, sweets with a little bite.

This recipe for Lavender Cookies came with the plants years ago, printed on each plant tag. I tossed one tag into a clipping file and promptly forgot it. Last summer I rediscovered the recipe and couldn't resist a trial batch to share with boat guests. They must have been a hit, since they disappeared quickly (the cookies, not the guests). The cookies have a slightly bitter edge and really do taste like lavender, which is a good thing only if you like lavender. It grows on you. I'll try Batch Two today and try some sweet toppings to balance the bite - sprinkles of sugar on one dozen and a thin frosting of powdered sugar and lemon juice to dip another dozen. We can do a taste test with three versions - plain, sugar topped, and frosting dipped. Oh yummy!   

Lavender Cookies
2/3 cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 scant tablespoon dried lavender flowers
1 ½ cups self-rising flour*

1. Preheat oven to 350 F while mixing dough. Grease 2 baking sheets (or use silpat or parchment paper).
2. Cream the butter and the sugar together, then stir in the beaten egg.
3. Mix in the flowers and the flour.
4. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheets.
5. Bake about 15-20 minutes, until the cookies are golden.
    Makes about 30 cookies.

*To use regular flour instead, add 2 tsp of baking powder for every 1 cup of plain flour. (total 3 tsp for this recipe) Sift flour and baking powder together into a separate bowl and sift again into the cookie dough.

Tasting notes
1. A sweet topping is a positive addition, both sugar and lemon frosting were hits
2. I'll add some lemon zest to the dough for the next batch and sugar the tops. 

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